Last week I received a couple "friend" requests, or whatever they're called, for my Facebook account, which reminded me that I have a Facebook account. I should say, had a Facebook account, because I unenrolled, or whatever the process is called. I don't remember why I'd joined in the first place, somebody I respect must have invited me. My online presence is based on my website, with YouTube bringing up a far second place, so Facebook was just another place for a clever vandal to draw a virtual mustache on my nonexistent profile image without my noticing. So I've defaced my own online presence by exiting Facebook.
I also defaced my atom feed, at least I'm sure that's how it looks in a feed reader. For the past year, I've already been manually editing my atom feed down to the last three posts, since Blogger wanted to include the last 25 posts and I couldn't figure out how to stop it. The three post atom feed still eats around a half a gigabyte of bandwidth a week, which strikes me as a criminal waste of electrons. So starting last week, I've replaced the full text feed with a simple notification service, that will supply a link to the actual post on my website. I'm open to other suggestions from readers if this is a hassle, I don't subscribe to any feeds myself so I don't know the relative pluses or minuses.
As my regular readers know, the goal of my online presence is to draw new readers through search, and these days, you can pretty much substitute "Google" for "search." Of course, there are plenty of snakes creeping around in Google's garden of Eden, and it's always been a bit of a puzzlement to me why Google doesn't cast them out on to slither on their bellies for the rest of time. I do spend a reasonable amount of time following Google's limited sourcing on this subject, especially Matt Cutts, and my conclusion is that Google is more like the old British Navy than a patient gardener.
Gardening is not a thrill a minute occupation for even the dullest human, it involves a lot of weeding, watering, watching and waiting. The goal in gardening is not to suppress the unwanted plants (even though that's a big part of the job), it's to encourage the desired plants to reach their full maturity. The gardener rejoices not in killing weeds, but in watching the fruits and flowers grow, often giving away the bulk of the produce. The gardener fights the weeds, the weather and the occasional bunny rabbit, but there's no joy in the battle.
In the days of Pax Britannica, the British Navy secured the trade routes for merchants and colonists around the world. But if you'd asked a British sailor in those days what the function of the Navy was, the answer would probably have been, "Fighting." The Navy fought pirates (when not acting as pirates) in addition to the French, Spanish, Dutch, Americans, and anybody else who cared to challenge their business model. The business model of the British Navy was prize money, which was shared amongst the crew, though not as democratically as say, pirates. Terrifying as flying splinters or getting eaten by sharks may sound, fighting was a welcome break from being crowded under the decks of a smelly, leaky wooden vessel and getting flogged.
In the days of Pax Google, the fun is apparently all in fighting the pirates, at least the 364 days a year they aren't talking like pirates. Google serves a nation of shopkeepers and shoppers, but fundamentally, it's fighting the spammers and sharp operators that makes the Googlers eyes light up and puts a smile on their faces. "Here is a foe worthy of I" quoth the computer engineer, "This beats spending a year tweaking the algorithm to determine which site explaining the role of worms in gardening should come out in the top of our search results." And that may explain why the British Navy hung pirates, while Google slaps them on the wrists and sits with them at SEO conventions. Pirates are fun, publishers are boring.
Rather than getting prize money for taking pirates (or removing their sites from Google's index), Google and its employees benefit from the improvement in their search results. As Google has the best search results around, by more than a small margin, they must be doing many things right. My take on how Google functions is entirely based on public comments of their employees and peculiarities I see in search results from time to time. It could be that they employ massive crews of gardeners who are entirely focused on getting the best discussion about worm poop to the top of the search results, but who can't say much about it in public.
But that doesn't explain why Google continues to index sites with hundreds of thousands of pages of computer generated content aimed at capturing long tail phrases. Some of these sites use scraped content from legitimate publishers, others present endless pages of search result extracts for key phrases. As near as I can tell, Google sees it as a challenge to ignore these "naughty" pages without penalizing legitimate pages on the site. Why not simply wipe them off the map? And why not attend publishing conferences rather than blackhat SEO (Silly Engineering Optimism) galas. Why not?